Senators expressed concern about the outbreaks of fights on school campuses, different security measures taken on different campuses and bus safety on St. Croix during Friday’s Homeland Security, Justice, Public Safety and Veterans Affairs Committee meeting.
Victor Somme, assistant commissioner of the V.I. Department of Education, told lawmakers that in the St. Croix District, schools reported two weapons infractions from 2018 to 2019, as well as 25 infractions involving the use of drugs or alcohol, 212 school fights and more than 400 other behavioral infractions.
Infractions have decreased so far during the current school year, Somme said. He said there have been two weapon possession infractions, nine drug and alcohol related infractions, 33 school fights and less than 100 additional behavioral infractions.
“Depending on the level of the infraction, students are subject to disciplinary consequences to include parental conferences, demerits, behavioral contracts, in-school detention, in-school and out of school suspension, restitution, referral to the Safe and Healthy Students Program and/or recommendation for expulsion,” Somme said.
The decreased numbers did little to satisfy senators, who said they could go into their phones and stream videos of recent student fights and students who displayed alarming disregard for authority figures such as bus drivers.
Somme said the first line of defense schools have against these situations are the employment of school monitors; 57 are employed in the St. Croix District.
“School monitors are extremely important in every school and program to ensure the health and safety of students, staff and visitors,” Somme said. “It is our experience, and the evidence shows, that teaching and learning happens best in safe and secure environments. To that end, intensive training for school monitors began under this administration in October 2019 when school monitors received professional development.”
This training ranged from the basic legal side of school monitoring to active shooter training, he said.
He said an active shooter drill is planned for March 19 at St. Croix Educational Complex High School. All Department of Education participants from last November’s drill will also participate in the upcoming drill.
Sen. Steven Payne Sr. asked about the department’s policy on monitors using pepper spray and handcuffs. Somme said the district does not currently use pepper spray to disengage fights, nor has the board discussed it enough to take a stance. However, handcuffs are used occasionally to restrain students who cannot otherwise be restrained.
When pressed by Sen. Oakland Benta as to what operating procedures monitors follow when a fight breaks out, Somme admitted they did not have one, but that each district does have a crisis response team.
“If there is a crisis on a school campus, principals will take the lead and they will direct accordingly and receive support from the school security manager and from the district and department overall,” Somme said.
St. Croix’s Deputy Superintendent of Schools Dr. Carla Bastian said school safety was a work in progress.
“We are working, and it is our hope with your continued support we will be able to continue to improve on all the practices that we implement on a daily basis,” Bastian said.